"a masterpiece that challenges the audience to really see the brutality and cruelty of the Holocaust"
Winner of Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards, Son of Saul is a raw tale of belief, religion, and redemption during the WWII in Hungary.
Set in a concentration camp, the film is entirely focused on the story of a prisoner working in the Sonderkommando division: a group, formed by the Nazis, composed by prisoners who were forced to dispose of their own people's bodies, after witnessing their deaths by gas.
After observing the brutal death of a young boy, Saul begins his personal mission to find a rabbi to help him bury him and honour his soul. In this desperate quest for final absolution, he will put in danger his already threatened life and the ones of the other prisoners.
Throughout cinema's history, several films have portrayed the horrors of the Holocaust; however, none of them reached the level of Son of Saul in terms of realism and commitment. What makes this film exceptional is the personal, focused story. More often than not, the point of view in this genre is neutral in representing the persecution and the brutal execution of thousands of people during the Second World War; however, none of them were as realistic and cutting as Son of Saul. By giving a voice to the prisoners who were forced to see their own people die in such an excruciating way, the film is painting this reality in darker colours, showing with unbelievable simplicity another more cruel side of the horrific chapter in world history.
The cinematography helps the message to come across more poignantly by using close-ups on the protagonist's face and leaving the background purposefully blurred. In fact, by blocking one of these senses, the violence of the scenes is not dismissed because the loud noises and the sharpness of the shots still highlight their brutality. Moreover, although the camera in many scenes shakes considerably, it adds intensity to the shots, making the film feels so close to the reality shown in documentaries.
Although the protagonist is not portrayed by a professional actor, Géza Röhrig commendably carries the film. His facial expressions, along with the deep understanding of his character's resolution, make the message come across effortlessly. The rest of the cast give the support necessary for the main actor to also showcase the different frame of mind of the prisoners in the camp. From the Sonderkommando's members ready to sacrifice everything in order to postpone their own deaths, to other prisoners trying to help Saul in his journey to redemption, each actor gives a soulful and darkly poignant portray of their characters.
Son of Saul is a masterpiece that challenges the audience to really see the brutality and cruelty of the Holocaust and it does so by exposing and exploiting a side of history that, before now, has only been described in books.